Canucks Team Needs: Depth Defenceman

Aaron "The Prototype" Rome
Photo courtesy wikimedia commons

It’s "Canucks team needs" week here at Canucks Army and already we’ve taken a look at some options the Canucks might have to improve their bottom-six centre depth, and their secondary scoring this offseason. Let’s turn our attention to the blue-line, supposedly a strength of this club.

While the Canucks arguably lack a dominant "1A defenceman," there should be no doubt that in Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison the Vancouver Canucks have four very good top-four guys. In Chris Tanev, who is a restricted free-agent this summer, and Frank Corrado, Vancouver’s system has some intriguing young depth as well. What the Canucks lacked a year ago, as evidenced by the fourteen games Cam Barker played, was credible defensive depth. It’s an issue likely to be exacerbated this summer by the probable departure of unrestricted free-agent Andrew Alberts and expensive liability Keith Ballard.

Wither Aaron Rome? We’ll break it all down after the jump.


Late last season, when the Canucks called up twenty-six year old journeyman Derek Joslin, assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman explained the move in a Team1040 interview. He gave Matt Sekeres and Blake Price a really interesting quote actually, one that elaborated on the organization’s philosophy as it pertains to depth blue-liners:

"Well, I’ve said it many times that a competitive team like ours, if you want to build a team that has a chance you’ve gotta have depth on the blueline. When we set out to build the team we billed our model with 8 defenseman on the NHL side, but we also sought out players who were going to be 9th, 10th, 11th guys who had the ability to play in the NHL. Derek’s a good example.

He’s a guy who over the last number of years has played up and down in the NHL… he’s an effective guy and he’s a safe bet to come up and pitch in if we need it. I mean he’s a credible, serviceable depth NHL player."

All told, Mike Gillis’s quest for defensive depth is a long standing theme of his tenure as Cancuks General Manager. This has been by necessity, after all the team has employed Sami Salo for the majority of Gillis’s tenure. Ultimately the Canucks haven’t used fewer than ten different defenceman in any season since 2008-09 (when they still used nine different blue-liners).

Heading into this summer, and assuming that Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts have played their last games in a Canucks uniform, the team is only seven defenceman deep along the blue-line (Hamhuis, Garrison, Edler, Bieksa, Tanev (RFA), Corrado, Joslin (RFA)). The club re-signed AHL puck mover Patrick Mullen to a two-way deal on Tuesday, but beyond that we get into names like "Peter Andersson" and "Adam Polasek" among a handful of others players who are a stretch to imagine credibly chewing up minutes along an NHL blueline.

Barring some creative scouting, Vancouver’s defensive depth will probably sustain a modest hit this summer (in addition to the hit they sustained last summer). You can talk all you want about the limited marginal utility of a seventh and eighth defenceman but this is an issue for the Canucks. Think about it, the Canucks leaned on Cam Barker in thirty percent of their games last season and were left in a position where they essentially had to burn a year(*) off of Frank Corrado’s entry-level contract.

(*) Burning a year of Frank Corrado’s entry-level deal was unfortunate, and something that almost certainly doesn’t happen if Chris Tanev is healthy. It was, however, absolutely the right call.

Look, I know that Aaron Rome was the Joey Fatone of the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks. But ultimately his presence was sorely missed last season, even though he’s in no way worth 1.5 million per season for a cap ceiling team like Vancouver.

In three seasons with the Canucks, Rome was an effective and versatile utility defenceman as you’ll find in the National Hockey League. You could feed him defensive zone starts, play him with literally any other defenceman on the roster, lean on him in a second or third pairing role, and count on him to adjust seamlessly between the left and right sides. In addition to bringing that sort of versatility, Aaron Rome would essentially come out even by the possession data. He wasn’t fast and he took a lot of penalties, but he was a glue guy who could fill in, be trusted to make the safe play and take the body.

The Canucks signed Aaron Rome to a two-way deal after his age 25 season, a season in which he appeared in only 8 games for Columbus in a third pairing role. He’d played in 26 NHL games in his career to that point, and his small sample underlying data was nothing special.

Rome had a productive offensive season as a twenty year old in the CHL, and consistently demonstrated some surprising offensive pop in the American Hockey League (in fact he scored six goals in seven games with the Manitoba Moose in 09-10). So there were some signs that he was skilled enough to handle himself in the National Hockey League.

Rome went on to play nearly two-thousand five hundred minutes for the Canucks over three seasons, providing extraordinary value considering the cost of his two Vancouver deals. He also spent more than one-hundred even-strength minutes with eight(!) different Canucks defenceman over three seasons (Ballard, Bieksa, Tanev, Salo, Hamhuis, Alberts, Edler and Ehrhoff), a testament to both Rome’s versatility and the collective inability of Canucks defenceman to stay healthy. 

So how does one find a comparable depth piece to Aaron Rome on the open market? It’s not an exact science, and it’s almost certainly not a trick that the Canucks can just snap their fingers and replicate. I’d think that the key is to take a risk on a group six free-agent, a player with some NHL experience but whose prime years are still ahead of him(*). 

(*) Remember when the Canucks played Marc-Andre Gragnani down the stretch so that he’d qualify as a restricted free-agent? Restricted Free Agents are "Group 2" Free Agents, while players aged 25 or older who haven’t played in at least 80 NHL games over three professional seasons – like Marc-Andre Gragnani in 2011/12 – are "Group 6."

This is just another one of the many tasks facing Mike Gillis and the Canucks front office this summer, but to their credit, they’ve been pretty good at identifying helpful players at the fringes of the NHL in the past (Tambellini, Tanev, Ebbett, Volpatti, Weise, Wellwood etc.).

Possible In-House Options

Derek Joslin is okay, I guess.
Image via circling the wagon.

Frank Corrado

In the Laurence Gilman quote that leads off the "Diagnosis" section of this piece, Vancouver’s Assistant General Manager says that the Canucks look to have eight defenceman at the NHL level, in addition to having 9th, 10th, 11th guys who have the chops to fill in on the NHL roster, but spend the majority of their time in the American Hockey League. Corrado proved down the stretch a year ago that he’s not out of place in a third-pairing role at the NHL level. Still, in an ideal world he’s going to spend his age 20 season logging major minutes in Utica, as opposed to being a regular at optional skates and occassionally filling in on the third-pairing.

Though the Canucks have used (not burned, used) the first year of Corrado’s entry-level contract, the priority with his usage next season should still be on "player development" as opposed to "helpful depth."

Derek Joslin

I hadn’t realized this at the outset of writing this post, but the Canucks will retain Derek Joslin’s rights as a restricted free-agent so long as they tender him a qualifying offer later this month.

That’s good news, and Joslin makes some sense as an eighth or ninth defenceman on the depth-chart. Joslin has been a pretty abysmal possession player at the NHL level over the past few seasons, though the underlying data looks worse because of the time he spent as a fourth-line forward in Carolina during the 2011-12 campaign. Joslin is 26, so there’s still some room for improvement. He’s been a productive offensive player at the OHL and AHL levels, and he’s versatile enough to fill in on the either the right of left point (though he’s best suited to the left-side). 

Peter Andersson

I still don’t really see Andersson as an NHL caliber prospect, certainly not without significant improvements to his skating. He’s another guy who, if he’s going to make it in the National Hockey League, probably needs to be getting burn in the American Hockey League as opposed to being a taxi squad regular.

Yann Sauve

I’ll be curious to see if Sauve even gets a qualifying offer this summer, or if the Canucks just cut him loose. I wouldn’t be surprised either way. I doubt that he’s ready to be a semi-regular fill in on a third pairing at the NHL level.

The Open Market

You could do worse than Tyson Strachan.
Image via wikimedia commons.

There are a few interesting bets the Canucks could make with Group 6 free-agents on the open market, and a couple of pretty solid older depth guys as well. The Canucks need to fill out the Utica Comets roster this summer anyway, and once they’ve tendered qualifying offers to players we expect to recieve them (Kellen Lain Chris Tanev, Darren Archibald, Dale Weise, Jordan Schreoder and maybe Derek Joslin, Yann Sauve and Bill Sweatt) they’ll have space to add roughly ten additional contracts before hitting the 50 deal max. So they can afford to take a couple of swings at some of the depth defenders on the market.

We’d also mention that the names available could, and probably will, change between now and July 5th. There are surely some defenceman around the league whom teams will use compliance buyouts on. Buyout candidates could be another source of bargain bin shopping items for the Canucks.

In terms of relatively known quantities there are guys like Adam Pardy, Mark Fistric, Ryan O’Byrne, Scott Hannan, Tyson Strachan and Mike Kostka available on the market this summer. These are the sorts of players who, I’m sure, will be looking for top-six jobs but are probably better suited to being seventh or eighth defenceman.

There’s also our old pal Dylan Reese.

In terms of group six free-agents with limited track records, guys who might be worth gambling on, there’s the likes of Bobby Sanguinetti, Taylor Chorney, Ty Wishart, Brett Bellemore, Chris Summers, and Matt Pelech.

In terms of the "known quantities" I actually quite like Tyson Strachan’s game. A BCHL veteran, Strachan has posted some auspicious possession numbers during his time in Florida and has a wealth of NHL experience. He’s a right-handed shot and primarily a right-side defenceman, but he’s spent nearly three-hundred minutes with Brian Campbell over the past few seasons (Campbell most commonly plays the right side) so he might bring some versatility.

In terms of the "local boys" (Mark Fistric, Ryan O’Byrne and Scott Hannan) I think you’d have to be pretty happy with any of them if they signed at an affordable clip to be a seventh or eighth defender. I don’t think that’s particularly likely, however, considering the high demand for and non-existent supply of defenceman on the open market.

In terms of fit, Fistric is a bit of a liability at five-on-five but the former Giant is a solid penalty killer and draws an awful lot of penalties somehow. Ryan O’Byrne is a massive right-handed shot who has been over his head for years and was exposed again on Toronto’s third-pairing during the 2012 postseason. As a seventh or eighth guy though, you could do a lot worse (and by a lot worse, I mean the Canucks could re-sign Cam Barker).

I thought Scott Hannan was basically finished coming out of the lockout – the 2004-05 lockout – but he played credible minutes alongside Brad Stuart against the Canucks and the Sharks in the postseason this spring. Hannan has bounced around of late, playing for three different teams over the last two years and signing consecutive one-year contracts. If the Canucks were to offer him an affordable two year deal to be their seventh or eighth defender and finish his career close to home, I wouldn’t get upset about it.

Adam Pardy was signed to a hilarious deal by Darcy Regier following the 2011-12 season, and he’s back on the market and looking at a Full Metal Jacket buzzcut this summer. Like most of the guys we’ve discussed here, he’s not "the answer" or anything to Vancouver’s blue-line depth question, but he’s alright. Also he’d be good to have on the team from my perspective just for the MSTRKRFT jokes: "ALL I DO IS PARDY AH AH AH AH!" 

In terms of the group six guys, Bobby Sanguinetti is probably the most desirable. The twenty-five year old has forty-five games of NHL experience under his belt, and played most of this past season with the Hurricanes. Deployed in extremely soft minutes, Sanguinetti was at least able to maintain possession though the percentages were none to kind to him (which accounts for his -6). I’m sure he’ll have suitors on the open market this summer, and he’s a reasonable enough bet to be a useful offensive specialist depth guy.

Ty Wishart is a former 16th overall pick and at 6,4 and a couple bucks twenty he could replace some of the heft the team may lose if Andrew Alberts hits the open market. He has twenty-six games of NHL experience and while he didn’t particularly impress in any of those contests, he might be worth taking a chance on. Brett Bellemore is another player in that mold, though he’s also significantly less experienced. Same goes for Matt Pelech, who is the nephew of Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis. With roles to fill in Utica, these group six guys may make sense on two-way contracts.

The Trade Market

We know Jeff Schultz is available (albeit expensive). At 2.75 million against the cap for next season, his contract doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Canucks, but at 1.325 (if Washington agreed to retain half of his cap-hit and salary)? Of course, Jeff Schultz is a plodding defender and not all that good.

Depending on who decides to "sell" at the draft, there could be other, better defenders available. It’s probably not worth forfeiting any sort of asset – including a late round pick – to add a seventh or eighth defenceman, however.


There just isn’t much available in-house or on the open market in terms of credible depth defenceman this offseason. The Canucks are going to have to get creative to address this particular need, I reckon, and I’d at least expect them to qualify Derek Joslin and gamble on a group six free-agent. If they can bring in a Scott Hannan or a Tyson Strachan that would be helpful, but it might not be realistic depending on the asking price and Vancouver’s salary cap situation.

More from the "Canucks Team Needs" series:

  • @Van Jordie Benn will, I assume, remain in Dallas to play with his brother. That’s why I didn’t include him. I think Garrison will remain on the right-side, yes. Unless they go with a Corrado,Tanev,Bieksa, Garrison, Edler, Hamhuis blueline group, which does make some sense.

  • Using Corrado’s first ELC year on the playoff run absolutely was the right move.

    However, the fact that a 2011 draft pick usurped Sauve, Connauton, Andersson and other selections from the 2008-2010 draft class speaks volumes about the lack of organizational depth. Not to mention supplanting Ballard.

    It’s no different than Jensen catching up to Kassian in the battle for a top 9 winger job and Gaunce catching up (in the minds of the organization, at least) to Schroeder for the 3rd line centre job.

    Finding utility defenceman seems akin to finding replacement level pitching to fill out a AAA roster and/or compete for the last bullpen job in spring training.

    Is there any proper way to do it?

    As important as depth is, it seems more or less like a crapshoot.

    Rome was good. Barker was not. Alberts started off poorly but improved.

    The main thing Gillis can do to improve the depth of the 10-14 forwards and the 7/8 defenseman is to create cap space. Easier said than done, though.

    • JCDavies

      “However, the fact that a 2011 draft pick usurped Sauve, Connauton, Andersson and other selections from the 2008-2010 draft class speaks volumes about the lack of organizational depth. Not to mention supplanting Ballard.

      It’s no different than Jensen catching up to Kassian in the battle for a top 9 winger job and Gaunce catching up (in the minds of the organization, at least) to Schroeder for the 3rd line centre job.”

      This could also be interpreted as an organizational improvement in the ability to scout and draft players.

      But I do agree about the lack of depth.

      • JCDavies

        You’re right. It could be interpreted that way.

        Though I’d argue it’s more an indictment of the usage of draft picks from 2008-2010 and the Canucks cap crunch than the emergence of Gaunce, Jensen & Corrado.

        Frankly, all 3 of those guys should probably start in the minors next year on a contending team.

  • GrogZilla

    I’m pretty optimistic about Henrik Tommernes coming over next year.
    He’s been very productive in the SEL. Getting very good reviews.
    23 years old
    Might be a nice surprise at camp.

  • BrudnySeaby

    I expect the Canucks to re-sign Alberts (2 years 3million) and have him play 3rd pairing with Tanev. So they slightly increase his salary but keep it manageable. Corrado will then hopefully, as he should, play a lot of minutes in Utica.

    After all, if they don’t resign Alberts, do the Canucks expect to find a suitable replacement at a cheaper price? Not going to happen! So you better sign what you know that you’ve got! Also he plays left side so the Top-4 can be made up by our top 4 guys.

    Of course, this is under the assumption that Ballard will be traded, waived or bought out.

  • JCDavies

    I wonder what Alberts will be asking for anyway, I’m not sure he’s done in Vancouver.

    Also, might the Ducks buy out Allen? His stock has got to be pretty low, which might help him to sign cheap if he is bought out. I think he could still be a 6th, 7th defenseman.

  • orcasfan

    It’s not that there are no D prospects, it’s just that most of them will need another year or two to develop into budding NHLers. These are the D guys next season in Utica: Andersson, Price, Polasek, Tommernes, Joslin, Mullen and Sauve (I think thei give him one more chance to prove himself), so far. Assuming that Corrado stays in Vancouver (I agree, probably should be in Utica). They will need more, but Vancouver doesn’t have to sign them. It should be Utica signing a couple more vets. Of course, that can’t happen until they have a GM in place!

    And, I also think it would be wise to keep Alberts (at a reasonable salary, say, up to 1.3 mil). Better the depth D you know (warts and all!), and is proven his utility, rather than taking a chance on yet another unproven depth guy (hello Barker!).

    I think we will see a revolving door next season of prospects coming up from Utica. With a real full season, there will be lots of opportunities to show their worth, not to mention a training camp and pre-season!

  • orcasfan

    Like Lapierre, Alberts may want to test the free agent market in search of a bigger role and payday.

    Perhaps he feels he can get 2 years and $4 million from an average team as a #6 defenseman.

    Not sure the Canucks can compete with that.

  • JCDavies

    The Canucks need a defenseman. The Canucks need a power forward. Th Canucks need to trade Luongo. the Canucks need a good GM and a good coach. The Canucks need this and need that…how long have they been saying that? Meanwhile everyone else just quietly goes about their way “doing” something about what they need. Gillis hasn’t even hired a coach yet, because if he hires a good coach, chances are he’ll be exposed and gone for the inept team he’s mismanaged.

    The day the Canucks stop saying what they need and start making moves towards it will be the day they stop becoming what NJ was, a mickey mouse organization. The Canucks over pay over rated players, while they are too cheap to pay for real grit and heart, and while they destroy the draft picks they get or trade them away. Look at Chara, Boston saw how he could be a better player with using his attributes while ottawa made the worse trade of the century trading him because like the Canucks, if a player doesn’t fit in with a system, they get traded away..ala Cam Neely.

    Great teams develop and mentor players, bad teams like the Nucks trade them away or piss them off to the point where they’re demanding to be traded. And that’s just one of the Nucks many problems.There’s no point talking about what they need when nothing ever gets done about it, is there?

  • JCDavies

    Jeremy Price is an intriguing option (though depth guy). He should sign a contract w/ Nucks this summer, unless he pulls a Schultz.

    Dylan Reese signed with the KHL for 2013/14. Which totally sucks cause he would have been a great cheap option.

    I also like Lovejoy, Kostka. I really like Drewiskie, but Mtl re-signed him for cheap. All have decent undelrying #’s. Also like Citsome and Corvo if they could come cheap.

  • JCDavies

    “Look, I know that Aaron Rome was the Joey Fatone of the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks. But ultimately his presence was sorely missed last season, even though he’s in no way worth 1.5 million per season for a cap ceiling team like Vancouver.”

    I’m not normally one to gripe over the past but it’s offseason and i just can’t help myself…

    This is not a critiscm on you Drance, but how the F-word can we say that Rome is in no way worth $1.5M when Ballard sits in the pressbox during the SCF 2 years ago making $4M+, and still has a job 2 years later!?

    It’s a tough pill to swallow when i hear how the Canucks couldn’t afford Christian Ehrhoff or Aaron Rome the raises they deserved, who were both excellent fits on 1st place teams, and yet Keith Ballard retains his spot on the payroll.

    And i do like Ballard, it just baffles me how MG & co. justify letting those 2 defenceman go for cap reasons while at the same time paying Ballard million$ to practice. Not a game, practice. We’re talkin about practice. Not a game.. cause he was a healthy scratch.

    That is all.

    • BrudnySeaby

      On what are you basing this?

      If Ballard were not around, there would have been far greater financial flexibility to retain Ehrhoff.

      The Canucks may very well have never met Ehrhoff’s demands. But it would have been far easier to make him a competitive offer to remain in the Canucks’ top 4 if Ballard was not sucking up $4.2 million in cap space as a utility defenseman.

      If Ballard were not around, Rome would have fit perfectly as the #6 defenseman.

      We can quibble on Ehrhoff. But Tanev, Rome & Alberts would have been a cost effective way to fill out the #5-7 defenseman slots and the savings could have been reinvested in the forward group.

      Same goes for Lou. Obviously.

        • orcasfan

          The 10 year term is what he received from Buffalo. It has little to do with his negotiations with Vancouver.

          In reality, it is a 7 year $37 million contract. The last 3 years are simply to keep the cap hit low.

          To keep it simple, let’s say that Ehrhoff wouldn’t give the Canucks a penny of a discount and wanted a 7 year $37 million contract. That works out to around a $5.3 million cap hit.

          In 2011-2012, the Canucks spent $6.2 million on Ballard ($4.2) and Salo ($2). Instead, they could have spent the exact same $6.2 million on Ehrhoff ($5.3) and Tanev ($0.9) in the starting 6.

          Of course, they also could have done a 10 year $40 million deal to keep the cap hit low. I’d also suggest that Ehrhoff may very well have signed for a touch less in Vancouver than Buffalo even if it was above what Gillis wanted to pay.

          This past season, the Canucks spent $8.8 million on Garrison ($4.6) & Ballard ($4.2). Instead, they could have spent $6.8 million on Ehrhoff ($5.3 million) & Rome ($1.5 million) while using the savings to bolster the forward group.

          Same goes for trading Lou obviously.

          It’s also noteworthy that Garrison’s contract expires at the same time as Ehrhoff’s “real” contract expires.

          Not to mention that there was no way of knowing after the cup run that Garrison would be available or even desirable one year later.

          • JCDavies

            I agree, and I think the Canucks could have accommodated the $5.3 million cap hit even with Ballard on the roster (even though letting him go would’ve made more sense).

            If I remember correctly, even seven years would’ve been too long for Gillis at the time. Can’t really see how Edler’s new six-year deal is much different, though.

          • JCDavies

            I don’t remember it exactly but it seems like he was trying to hold Ehrhoff to a Bieksa-type deal.

            I found this quote:

            “We’re still taking about different possibilities, but like I said earlier, playing on this team is more important than individual compensation,” Gillis said. “That’s our expectation with everybody. It works with some but it may not work with others. I can’t tell you what I expect.

            “We’ll just see how it goes. If he’s unwilling to accept what we think is fair and allows us to be competitive, we’ll go in a different direction.”


            This seems less about Ballard and more about Gillis.

          • JCDavies

            But he didn’t follow the “playing on this team is more important than individual compensation” rule with Luongo.

            He also didn’t follow the $4.6 million “cap” on Canucks defenseman with Edler’s recent deal.

            And all of this has to be taken in the context of wasting $4.2 million on a utility defenseman.

            It’s all about opportunity cost. The money/cap space devoted to Ballard was money that could not be spent elsewhere.

            If Ballard were not on the roster, a more competitive offer to Ehrhoff would have been possible while trying to maintain depth in other areas.

          • JCDavies

            Do you think a more competitive offer would’ve been offered if Ballard wasn’t on the the roster?

            I think Ballard’s contract cost the Canucks in other areas but I don’t think he was what prevented Gillis from re-signing Ehrhoff.

          • JCDavies

            I certainly think the Canucks would have had the ABILITY to offer more to Ehrhoff if not for Ballard.

            Instead, they spent $4.6 on Bieksa & $2 mil on Salo.

            It would have been difficult to fit in Ehrhoff on top of that when the cap was $64 million at the time (if I am not mistaken).

          • Mantastic

            “Can’t really see how Edler’s new six-year deal is much different, though.”

            It’s pretty much the same thing. Espescially considering he signed prior to this shortened season. In effect, the Canucks gave him 7 years of financial security by adding on 6 years 1 year earlier than necessary.

            I don’t blame Gillis for not retaining Ehrhoff. I just don’t like the narrative that “Ballard’s cap hit has not prevented the Canucks from addressing other areas.”

            Because it absolutely has.

  • orcasfan

    I think we retain Alberts as a depth guy. The odd journeyman is not too tough to find and Gillis has done a decent job there.

    The main concern is up front and the new coach. We could see a shift in team philosophy. At D, we need to have a good top 4 and, if Corrado develops, should have a good top 6.